One of the greatest and most poignant mysteries of Life is how, every time man errs and darkness engulfs us, the Supreme, the Divine, or whatever name we give It, sends down upon earth His instruments, the avatars, shaktis, gurus, yogis, saints, vibhutis, to help humanity.
Most of these avatars, gurus, shaktis, are vilified in their own times, and only when they die, are they deified, but unfortunately in exactly the opposite manner of what they had taught: their spiritual message is codified and made into religions which are often exclusive and strive to convert others.
In the old days, avatars and gurus were physically tortured: Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross by his own people. Nowadays, when sensibilities have changed, there is no need to crucify physically gurus, they are just pilloried by the Media.
Osho, was vilified, hounded, when he was alive, now his books and tapes sell all over the world. In the same way, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of the most selfless gurus today, whose pranayama techniques have benefited millions, and whose volunteers work tirelessly all over the world to alleviate pain or disaster, has been attacked again and again.
Gurus are not only slandered in India, but also by he foreign Media. Recently, Pierre Monegier, the Delhi-based correspondent of France 2, the French national channel, approached the Art of Living Foundation of SSRS with an apparently very innocuous request for an interview :“we are planning to do a story on the importance of religion and spirituality in India”. The request was granted and Pierre Monegier and his reporter, Nida Hasan, were allowed access to every corner of the Bangalore ashram, as well as an interview with SSRS. And this what came out on 4th July in the prime time 8 PM news of France 2 :
Sri Sri was introduced by a voice over as a “head of a vast flourishing business”. The Bangalore ashram was described as being “a gigantic resort with many hotels and restaurants (absolutely false), and innumerable shops dedicated to Sri Sri Shankar”.
Importance was given to images showing devotees touching SSRS’s feet, or asking him to hug them (with voice), and having tears in their eyes, as Pierre Monegier knew it would shock French viewers, not used to the Indian ways of devotion. Then, Monegier stated that : “Most of the disciples pour into the organisation 10% of their income”, which is a total lie. Finally, of the interview with SSRS, they chose only one quote, which could again shock the French : ” I am like any other doctor- a specialist who can bring happiness to people ….the ultimate goal of money is after all happiness” and Pierre Monegier concluded : “Some these auto proclaimed popes of Hinduism have a flavor of scandal to them”.
Now this is a serious matter: what if an Indian journalist based in Paris asked for an interview with the Cardinal of Paris, lying about his true intentions, that the request be granted and that the journalist used this opportunity to defame the Cardinal and French Catholicism in general? His or her visa would not be renewed or could even be revoked at once. Usually, it is very easy to denigrate gurus and Hindus – and probably Pierre Monegier and Nida Hasan banked on that. But this time, everybody has reacted: the Art of Living is considering filing a defamation suit against France 2 India; the French embassy in India and the Indian embassy in Paris have been contacted and a government of India official has said that “he was appalled by the France 2 footage”
The accusation of Gurus being super rich, running empires, having assets in tax free countries is nothing new. But what I have seen with my own eyes, is that a guru starts with a few disciples, and as the ashram grows, people have to be fed, expenses met. Then he has satsangs, which have to paid for, departments have to be started to run housing for guests, kitchens, administration… At some point donations are not enough and extra money is sought through sales of DVDs’, ayurvedic products, photos… France 2 focused on the shops of the Art of Living ashram in Bangalore, even having a close-up of a cash register in an ayurvedic outlet and a saleswoman with a bundle of rupees in her hands. From the beginning, Sri Sri has tried to revive Ayurveda in India, seeing how every third shop here is an allopathic one and that this ancient, wise and unique medical system was slowly dying. Sri Sri started his own ayurvedic factory under one of his most senior disciples and brought out some pioneering products, which today are marketed under Sri Sri Ayurveda. What’s wrong with that?
True, in the end, a movement like the Art of Living, has to be run like a multinational – yet every rupee is poured back into sewa projects or into ashrams which are always running into losses.
France 2’ film is highly biased, and is a direct attack on India’s ancient culture, which always respected its spiritual leaders and allowed devotion to flow freely. The fact that France is only the 11th investor in India, behind smaller countries like Belgium or Mauritius, is undoubtedly due to the wrong image that is propagated by channels like France 2. Will Pierre Monegier get way with what he has done?